Spring is in the air and it is evident at Sunnycrest Nursery, where flowers and friendships have blossomed for nearly 25 years.
In 1981, the nursery at the main intersection in Key Center was called Sakura and it was owned by Sam Momi. Sam Momi was a veteran of WWII who had also experienced internment in a U.S. Japanese incarceration camp. The Sakura nursery was housed behind the Key Center Tavern, next door to the barbershop. One day Momi was watering his plants along the back fence that separated the nursery from the Olson family property and the Olsons’ daughter, Claudia Loy, asked, “Sam, you haven’t thought of selling this, have you?”
Momi said, “Yeah, it’s for sale.” And the transaction from Sakura Nursery to Sunnycrest Nursery began.
Claudia Loy and her husband, Dale, had moved to the Key Peninsula nine months earlier. They had lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Claudia had a lunch and sandwich business and Dale worked maintenance jobs for golf courses and private yards.
The couple came as caretakers for the Civic Center. They enjoyed returning to the Peninsula, where Claudia was born and raised. Their daughters had the same school bus driver as Claudia and they all enjoyed basketball and roller skating at the center.
While the Loys were working three jobs and wishing for one, they thought about owning a business. “We were always working hard for other people, why couldn’t we run our own business,” Dale Loy says. Some nursery and produce businesses were available. “We didn’t know plants but we did know how to work with people,” he says.
Momi wanted to sell his business out right but since the Loys couldn’t afford such a transaction, he eventually offered a deal with terms and on May 3, 1982, Claudia and Dale Loy went into the nursery business. “Sam stayed with us for three months. He introduced us to all the suppliers and all his customers,” the Loys say. “There were a lot of loyal people because Sam made sure he had the best.”
The property the couple bought was adjacent to part of the 1887 Olson family homestead. The homestead was a major strawberry-growing operation. Elmer Olson, Claudia’s grandfather, built a house near the homestead in the early ‘20s; he and wife Elsie called it Sunnycrest Farm.
The strawberry fields were the source of summer spending money for the children. The first sales experience for 10- year-old Claudia came from the family’s roadside fruit stand. Of course, the strawberries had to be picked first. “Yes, I picked them. If you were related, you picked,” says Claudia and admits that she is not fond of strawberries to this day. Picking strawberries was not the best job. “On a good day, I got to pick raspberries… Then I didn’t have to bend over,” she says. But picking strawberries in the summer was what all the kids wanted to do. “That was the place to be…all the cousins were there.”
Claudia and Dale were allowed to use the Sunnycrest name with the admonition they respect the name.
The first years were lean. Dale read the “Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia,” but it was some of their customers who were their best teachers — like Valda Young from Maple Hollow. Young was a Bayshore Garden Club member who came into the nursery and talked about all the plants. Her experience in Japan after the World War II taught her about Japanese gardening. She and Dale went to shop for Bonsai and pots. Many of the people, like Young, met the couple through the business and have remained best friends.
After three years, Claudia’s father, Don Olson, built a bigger building for the nursery. And now, in 2005, they are experiencing a real growth time as the threat of the “big boys” like Home Depot looms over their heads. They believe their knowledge and their willingness to talk to people makes the difference.
“We sell success because we tell customers what they need to do to make it work,” says Dale Loy, while his fingers weave a pine needle basket. “This is a luxury business, we feed the soul, we don’t feed the mouths,” Claudia adds.
Many changes have occurred over the years and the Loys love the changes, they love the variety. The couple have immersed themselves in those changes, being active in community groups ranging from the Civic Center to the Key Pen Community Fair, and supporting various events, from Flavor of Fall to Dr. Penrose Orthopedic Guild’s annual dinner.
The Peninsula is becoming a commuting community unlike Claudia’s girlhood days, when her neighbors were loggers, farmers, fishermen, and some Boeing employees. The nursery business has changed, too. Floral design and delivery has been added to their services. They say that florals help pay bills in the quiet time of winter. Their products have changed, they have gone away from chemicals and are more organic. They say the whole industry is headed in that direction. Safety for the environment is the priority.
Claudia says she has seen “a larger increase in the diversification of incomes and lifestyles over the years,” but it remains the “best community around, people are still connected.” If she were to write a book about the changes in the community she would call it “As the Key Turns.” Her appreciation of change and new things in life is reflected in a favorite aspect of the Sunnycrest business. “I do love the spring, I love the annuals and all the color,” she says.